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Friday
Dec022011

Long for the Sea

Once there was a man who wanted to find worthy sailors for an expedition. He recruited strong people and began to teach them skills like knot tying, and navigation. They learned the tasks adequately. Yet he wanted workers who were dedicated. He tightened the regime of training, using threats and increased promises of pay. They could all perform the motions, yet something was missing. He could not articulate it, much less remedy the problem.
 
Still the captain had to set sail, so he boarded the crew and they embarked on the frothy seas. In calm weather, things went well enough. The men on deck took their turns, arriving at the beginning of their watch, and leaving when it was over. But when the first storm came, they became disoriented. Some appeared late for their shifts, or begged to be released to the lower deck. Fear and anxiety made them forget their routines, and he found himself dragging them to their posts, only to have them prove near useless against the gyrating water.
 
It was a fierce night, raging on for hours. When the ocean finally calmed, the captain took stock. Half a dozen of the crew had been washed over board, several more begged him to turn around. He felt enraged, and hopeless. 
 
When they landed again, he begrudgingly paid the crew, and vowed to find another way to fill his ship. As he walked along the shore, he noticed a young man, scarcely twenty, who sat gazing at the horizon. He sat down next to him.
 
"What are you looking at?" he asked.
 
"The sea. I have longed to sail across it since I was a little boy," said the young man.
 
"Know much about sailing?" the captain inquired.
 
"Oh yes! I have read Moby Dick, and The Old Man and the Sea until I know passages by heart."
 
The man had meant actual knowledge, but he began to wonder. Perhaps he had been looking in the wrong place all along. This young man ached to be out on the waves, feeling the salt in his face. He could learn to sail.
 
For the next few months the captain found men and women whose hearts already belonged on the ocean. In place of experience they dreamed of what it would be like. Each person eagerly learned the skills, making mistakes to be sure, but ever willing to try again. 
 
When the crew set sail, everything felt different. Sailors arrived early for their shifts, staying long after they were over. They watched the captain closely, trying to mimic his deftness with ropes and sails. Instead of aching to be back on land, they savored the beauty of the open water, the birds and fish that danced around them.
 
The night of the first storm, everyone was perched to work. Men who had only read about the sea and sky trading places threw themselves into staying afloat. They rose to higher competence than the captain had ever witnessed in such novices. The water raged all night, and not a man aboard slept a wink.
 
But in the morning, the forgiving sun peeked over the shimmering blue sea to warm them. The crew was drenched and exhausted, yet strangely revived. They had weathered their first tempest. They were sailors. 
 
Marriage skills can be learned. You can practice communication tools until they are as routine as jumping jacks. You can parrot back the differences between men and women like you do the multiplication tables. 
 
But no one can teach you to love marriage. That comes from deep within, from years of longing for something God given, and imagining what waits across the threshold.